The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Belgium:
- Emissions Targets
According to a European Commission report, Belgium is likely to miss its climate targets for 2020 and 2030. The report finds that by 2030, the country will have reduced its emissions by only 14%, compared to the actual target of 35% reduction. Additionally, the share of large companies that have completed energy audits is much lower than the European average: 58% in Belgium against 67% across Europe. According to a report released by the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium, the country can meet 2030 climate targets if it ramps up efforts, especially in investments.
There exists a considerable income gap between the rich and the poor in Belgium: OECD finds that the top 20% of the population earns four times as much as the bottom 20%. An Oxfam report from 2017 reveals that 10% of Belgians own half the country’s wealth. Poverty and unemployment rates are higher in the capital city of Brussels.
In terms of gender equality, there is some room for improvement. 59% of women are in paid employment, against 68% for men. Additionally, in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment for Belgium, boys scored a point higher than girls, whereas girls did better in many other countries. There is also a need to improve the integration of socially marginalized groups, second- and third-generation Muslim minorities in particular. Data shows that people in socially disadvantaged groups face greater barriers to accessing healthcare services.
- Political Instability
Belgium has been without a government since December 2018, and Federal elections in May 2019 failed to lead to the formation of a new government. The deadlock arose from differences between the conservative Dutch-speaking Flanders and the left-leaning French-speaking south over the Global Compact for Migration and other issues. The political crisis has made it impossible to pass a new budget, with the public deficit touching 11 billion euros in 2020 – a violation of EU rules. While Belgium’s political landscape has always been unstable, an extremely polarized parliament without a majority is a challenging predicament for the country.
- Air Pollution
Air pollution arguably constitutes one of the greatest environmental health risks in European countries, and Belgium is no exception. The Environmental Performance Index published by Yale University reveals that Belgium is among the worst performers in the European Union when it comes to air quality. The city of Antwerp is among the 50 places in the world most polluted by nitrogen dioxide. In Brussels too, unhealthy air causes 632 premature deaths each year, with fine particle concentrations that are 80% higher than WHO recommendations. Indeed, the level of atmospheric PM2.5 in Belgium is 14.7 micrograms per cubic meter, higher than the OECD average of 13.9 micrograms per cubic meter.
- Regional Inequality
Belgium is a federal nation composed of three regions – the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region, and the Brussels Capital Regions – and three communities divided by language – Flemish, German, and French. Tensions between the French and Flemish communities have existed for centuries, and certain socioeconomic gaps are evident. The Flemish-speaking Flanders region is richer, for one, contributing to 60% of Belgium’s GDP. Moreover, at 11%, unemployment is higher in the French-speaking Walloon Region. The imbalance is evident in education as well: the French language community scores poorly in international rankings, whereas Flanders performs well.